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painintheneck

This painintheneck is an appeal to writers to "learn the tools." Too many people,
especially in Germany, seem to be talking and writing about new media without
being actively involved. Even sadder, some people are working for the new media
industry as mere suppliers of intellectual raw material. Because they are not
interested in learning the tools, they are relegated to non-creative tasks.
Recently, I heard that at the Hochschule fuer Gestaltung Offenbach, one of the
premier design schools in Germany, the younger classes are again turning their
backs to technology. They consider themselves part of a creative caste that does
not need to "dirty their hands" with any sort of equipment.

_Sorrows of a Multimedia Hack_

Harper's Magazine recently featured an objective and well-written account of a
writer involved in CD- ROM production (June 1996, p. 71), under the spiced-up
title, "Virtual Grub Street - Sorrows of a Multimedia Hack," The author, Paul
Roberts, described how he started getting involved in the multimedia business. At
first, he enjoyed producing that special type of text the industry demanded:
articles on various diverse topics that all were not allowed to be longer than
one paragraph. Not too much tedious thinking was necessary. The job seemed fun.
The money also was good, although he was expected to write a very large number of
those little texts. A stopwatch next to his computer reminded Roberts not to
spend too much time on each article.

After some time, the author started to become alienated from his work. He
discovered he was but one little cog in the CD-ROM production process. More
importantly, he understood that the articles he was producing in a timed
Taylorist fashion did not contain much insight or knowledge. There was simply not
enough space but for the most rudimentary descriptive information. The author,
having come from a print world, was bereft of his traditional means of
expression, using paragraph sequences to develop his argument linearly. The
creative role of assembling the different parts of the CD- ROM to create a
unified hypermedia conglomerate, however, lay out of his reach. Worst of all, he
was not even told which projects he was working for. Even if he could guess from
the material he was asked to assemble, nondisclosure statements prevented him
from discussing his work with fellow authors or even his family. The high risks
and investments in CD- ROM publishing creates an environment of utmost secrecy.

On reading this Harper's article, Europeans will wonder if this is, in fact, an
American phenomenon? Aren't European multimedia productions created with more
love and more time? Don't European multimedia writers, designers and sound
specialists work together in guild-like networks that burst with creativity? Of
course, none of these comparisons hold up to reality. They are no more
substantial than the frequent references made to European art cinema vs.
Hollywood. There is such a thing as a black and white, low-budget, bohemian US
art film.

The underlying problem is that the writer who approaches the industry with no
more than his conventional know-how will be relegated into a menial position.
This is true on both sides of the Atlantic wherever large multimedia projects are
being realized.

Hypermedia writing should not be separated from interface design. The very term
"writer" is problematic, yet I will use it in this article. The writer herself
must create the scenario in which the reader can navigate. The role of the writer
itself needs to evolve into a "maker of worlds," an expression frequently heard
in the last few months (for example at the hypertext writing workshop in Cannes
this year).

The technological context in which hypermedia writing takes place is evolving so
fast that it is difficult defining any terms at all. We have long shifted from
the CD-ROM to the Internet as the engine of change. "Writing" on the Internet is
now influencing CD-ROM production, even the creation of print media. In the
World-Wide-Web environment, the strategic cooperation between writer and
interface designer becomes even more important. This is because both content and
interface need be in a process of constant change. World-Wide-Web = Flux. Readers
demand this of the medium. It does not make sense any more, for example, to hire
a writer or designer just for one or even several texts. Writing is a long-term
assignment with architectural dimensions. The building is being used while it is
being remodeled and expanded.

Bazon Brock (http://www.uni-wuppertal.de/FB5-Hofaue/Brock) compared the Internet
to a medieval cathedral. Perhaps this metaphor can be extended to an individual
Internet site. A cathedral took many decades, if not centuries to build. Maybe
this was also one of its' strengths. Worship took place in a dynamically changing
context, it was an ongoing striving for perfection that was seldomly completed in
a lifetime.

Dynamic hypermedia writing carries with it its' own set of challenges. Linking,
for example, is becoming more difficult as sites speed up their internal
metabolism. […] The key is simple software tools. Already for some time we have
software such as Adobe Site Mill and Microsoft Front Page available that assist
us in link administration.

To push her creative potential, the hypermedia writer should learn how to use
these and other tools. Distancing ourselves from the technology involved is not a
viable option.

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